Saturday, May 21, 2011

Saturday Sparkle: A Diamond and Emerald Brooch, 1930

Diamond and Emerald Brooch
French, 1930
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Dense configurations of diamonds in geometric patterns defined the jewelry design of the 1930’s. Very often, designers, especially the French, adapted these rigid designs into stylized organic forms. Especially popular were feathers and flowers.

This brooch is the epitome of 1930’s style. Brilliant cut and baguette diamonds set in platinum take on an abstracted feather form—contrasted by cool green cabochon emeralds. The platinum framework is easily removed so that this brooch can be worn as a flexible pendant.


The Art of Play: Toy Silver Saucepan, Tea Set and Cover, 1720-1750

Toy Saucepan, Tea Set and Cover
Silver, Wooden Handles, Fabric
The Victoria & Albert Museum
For as long as there have been children, there have been toys. Children have always liked to play with miniature versions of the objects that they see their parents use every day. So, it was only natural that a child in the early Eighteenth Century would have a miniature saucepan and silver tea set to play with.

Crafted of silver and wood, this set features small versions of a traditional tea set in addition to a cozy, a saucepan and, oddly, a silver swan. Curiously, this set of objects was intended to be buried with their owner who passed away as a small child. It was taken from her casket before burial.

Sculpture of the Day: Relief of an Unknown Man, 1790-1820

Relief of an Unknown Man
possible Sir Francis Burdett
Polychrome Wax
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Prior to photographs, portraiture was the only way to preserve an image. Whether the portrait was in paint or a three-dimensional sculpture, to sit for such a piece of art was considered a symbol of status and financial comfort.

In the late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries, the use of wax as a medium became more popular. Wax portraits—especially in low relief—were often created as a tribute to a person who has passed.

This bas relief wax plaque of an unknown man was created between 1790 and 1820. Some believe that this curly-headed gentleman is Sir Francis Burdett, but there’s little evidence to support that claim. Regardless of his identity, it’s a beautiful portrait. Still brightly colored and crisp after two centuries, this gentleman’s visage continues to charm us long after his body has gone to dust.

At the Music Hall: Goodbye Dolly Gray, 1898

I have come to say goodbye, Dolly Gray,
It's no use to ask me why, Dolly Gray,
There's a murmur in the air, you can hear it everywhere,
It's the time to do and dare, Dolly Gray.

So if you hear the sound of feet, Dolly Gray,
Sounding through the village street, Dolly Gray,
It's the tramp of soldiers' true in their uniforms so blue,
I must say goodbye to you, Dolly Gray.

Goodbye Dolly I must leave you, though it breaks my heart to go,
Something tells me I am needed at the front to fight the foe,
See - the boys in blue are marching and I can no longer stay,
Hark - I hear the bugle calling, goodbye Dolly Gray.

Written by Will D. Cobb (lyrics) and Paul Barnes (music), this sentimental ballad became popular in the U.S. in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. Later, it became a favorite in England in 1900 during the Boer War.

A favorite of Sir Noel Coward, the song was used in his stage play, Cavalcade and has, since, been featured on the sound tracks of many films. Enjoy this rendition by Music Hall Queen, Florrie Forde.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 250

Ulrika gulped her wine—as she always did—and leaned back in her bed, grinning. “It’s sweet, really,” She cooed. “But, not as sweet as you, Arthur.”

“Did you like it?” Arthir winked, sitting next to her.

“Very much.” Ulrika sighed. “I also enjoyed the wine.”

“Ah, you are a harlot, Pet.” Arthur laughed.

“Careful, Arthur,” Ulrika frowned. “You don’t want to spoil my good mood.”

“Of course I don’t.” Arthur smiled. “After all, you’re so delicate.”

“I am.” Ulrika chuckled.

“And clever. How is it that someone so delicate can be so clever?” Arthur continued.

“I suppose I’m blessed.” Ulrika muttered.

“Yes, you must be. Such a clever lass.” Arthur scowled.

“What are you thinking?” Ulrika asked, rolling over slightly, without pulling the blankets over her bare back.

“I’m remembering, Pet.” Arthur smirked.

“Remembering what?”

“The time that you forced me and Barbara to take that foul root. Do you recall that?” Arthur asked.

“I do.” Ulrika replied uncomfortably. “My mesmerism. It’s really quite a complicated study. I suppose I should apologize for that, really. But, I won’t. It had to be done. At the time, it seemed the only route I could take. You seem to have recovered well enough.”

“And, so will you.” Arthur chuckled.

“Pardon me.” Ulrika tilted her head to one side.

“I discovered what that root was.” Arthur stood up and walked to the window. “St. Dymphna’s Root, it’s called. It makes the person who consumes it feel as though they’re living in a dream—unable to think or move for themselves.”

“Yes.” Ulrika’s eyes widened.

“It comes in many forms—chunks, powders…” Arthur laughed. “When combined with sugar, it’s almost unnoticeable.”

“What have you done?” Ulrika sat up quickly. As she did, she realized how dizzy she had become.

“It cost me dearly,” Arthur said triumphantly. “But, I managed to get some of your precious root.”

“You didn’t?”

“Could you taste it in your sweet wine?” Arthur laughed loudly.

“Arthur, you didn’t!” Ulrika gasped.

“I certainly did, Pet.” Arthur nodded. “Now, you’ll see how you like being a puppet.”

At that very moment, Robert narrowed his eyes at Giovanni. “Is that your answer? You won’t find triumph in the sound of a blade scraping my bones.”

“Don’t you think?” Giovanni shrugged. “I see we have a difference of opinion.”

“Stab him!” Marie shouted happily. “Spill his blood!”

“Such a hurry, Miss Laveau,” Giovanni tittered.

“I can use him. He’s no good to me alive.” Marie said quickly.

“You’d murder a man you don’t even know?” Robert said bravely.

“If he’s in my way, most assuredly.” Giovanni nodded.

“I’m not in your way,” Robert argued. “Move along. Go off and terrify someone else.”

“You’ve prevented me from seeing my brother.” Giovanni growled. “Now, I must prevent you from seeing yours.”

With that, Giovanni lunged forward with his blade extended.

Robert yelped as he stumbled backwards.

Meanwhile, Mr. Punch nervously approached Julian within the room that only they could see.

“Who’s talkin’?” Mr. Punch asked.

“Mr. Punch, if only you’d listened to me.” Julian murmured. “Now, you’ve awakened him.”

“Who?” Mr. Punch demanded. He turned to question Naasir, but found that the spirit of his friend has vanished.

“Naasir can’t help us now.” Julian said angrily.

“What’s happened? What’ve I done?” Mr. Punch asked—fear rising in his voice.

“You’re not the only one with secrets,” Julian shook his head.

“Is there another of us? A third?” Mr. Punch asked. “Why don’t I know about it?”

“You think you’re so clever, Mr. Punch,” a booming voice called from a distance, yet frighteningly nearby. “You’ll soon see who the clever one is.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-249? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday, May 23, 2011 for Chapter 251 of Punch’s Cousin.

Goal for the Day: Focus on the Good

The negative facts that creep up on is every day are hard to deny. From major catastrophes to minor inconveniences, we have a lot that we must deal with on a daily basis. But, through it all, though they’re quieter, we have a lot of happy moments that need celebrating.

Today, try to silence the chatter of the negative and focus on those good things that life brings to your door each moment. When you examine each day, it’s easy to see that the collection of minor triumphs is always far greater than the few setbacks.

Object of the Day: A Souvenir of the Life of the Queen Mother, 2002

Not all Royal souvenirs were created to commemorate a coronation or marriage. Sometimes, items were made to celebrate the life of a member of the Royal Family after a death.

This mug, made in 2002, is a tribute to the life of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother who passed away at the age of 101. Throughout her lifetime, she was a constant source of support for her husband, King George VI, throughout World War II and until his death; she saw the ascension of her daughter to the throne and served as a trusted advisor for decades.

Featuring a beautiful portrait of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in some of her collection of beautiful diamonds, the mug’s body is predominately the robin’s egg blue which Her Majesty often wore. The reverse of the mug honors the Queen Mother with the dates of her birth and death.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Mastery of Design: An Ivory and Diamond Ring, 1750-1800

Ivory and Diamond Ring
Gold, Crystal, Diamonds, Ivory and, possibly, shell.
Possibly German.
The Victoria & Albert Museum
In the late Eighteenth Century, ivory was prized as an exotic and valuable medium. Ivory found its way into a variety of uses from household items to jewelry. Due to its durability and its ability to be carved into delicate and intricate patterns, ivory was a highly desirable material.

This ring by an unknown maker probably comes from Germany between 1750 and 1800. German jewelers were known for their fine ivory carvings and rings such as this were often imported into Britain. Housed behind a crystal dome, an ivory carving shows an intricate pastoral scene. Ethereal in its frame of diamonds, the piece has been set in gold.

For a ring like this to survive this long is quite remarkable. Very often, the crystal was broken from daily wear. This example is in exquisite condition.

Mr. Punch in the Arts: A Glass Paperweight Featuring Mr. Punch and Toby, 1873

Pressed Glass Paperweight
John Derbyshire & Co.
The Victoria & Albert Museum
From his first appearance as Pulcinello, a marionette, in Covent Garden, Mr. Punch has been Britain’s most beloved grouch and a source of inspiration for artists in every possible medium.

This green glass paperweight shows the burgeoning interest in pressed glass figures. Produced by John Derbyshire in Salford, Manchester, the paperweight dates between 1873 and 1876. We see Mr. Punch in all of his deformed beauty, seated atop a chair beneath which his faithful companion, Toby, rests comfortably.

This is one of a pair of paperweights produced by Derbyshire. The companion shows Judy, seated similarly, with her cat.

The Victoria & Albert Museum

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Friday Fun: Mr. Punch’s Russian Cousin, Petrushka

An antique "Petrushka"
Mr. Punch has cousin all over the world who look and act quite a bit like him. His Russian counterpart is called “Petrushka” (meaning Parsley). Dressed in red with a jester’s painted face, Petrushka has a long nose like Mr. Punch and a very similar “swazzle”-created voice.

Petrushka also relies on slapstick comedy, but the stories take a slightly different approach than the adventures of Mr. Punch. Petrushka stories focus on his military service, his medical treatment and his training of a horse.

Thanks to Chris van der Craats (Australia’s “Professor Whatsit”), we get this fascinating glimpse at this Russian puppet cousin to our Mr. Punch.

Antique Image of the Day: Princess Maud and Prince Charles of Denmark 1896-1901

Prince Charles of Denmark and Princess Maud
Frame by Viktor Aarne of Fabergé
The Royal Collection
This beautiful frame of three-color gold, dazzling blue guilloché enamel, half pearls, rose diamonds, and ivory by Viktor Aarne of Fabergé rather steal focus from the photographs it holds. But, honestly, there are few photos which could rival the beauty of this magnificent frame.

Still, the photos themselves are quite handsome. Here, we see the pretty Princess Maud in a photo from 1896. Maud was the daughter of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. The other oval houses a photo of her new husband, Prince Charles of Denmark who was quite a fine-looking chap. Maude married the Prince in 1896. From 1905 onward, he was King Haakon VII of Norway, ensuring that Maud always enjoyed a Royal lifestyle.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 249

With a speed he never thought himself capable of, Robert cut through the mist and rushed into the alley where Charles stood—menaced by Marie and Giovanni.

Marjani panted, hurrying after the doctor—whispering in rasps behind him, “Think, Doctor, think about what you’re ‘bout to do.”

Upon approaching Giovanni, Robert yanked the man backward by his shoulder.

Giovanni howled, stumbling backward. He prevented himself from falling and glowered at Robert.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Giovanni barked.

Robert ignored the man. “Charles,” he said quickly. “Go into the house with Marjani.”

“Come along, Charles.” Marjani said quickly.

“Who do you think you are?” Giovanni spat. “How dare you interrupt my discussion with my brother?”

“So, you’re the brother, are you?” Robert growled. “You’re the man from whom Charles has been running?”

“I don’t know what Carlo has told you, but we were just enjoying a reunion.”

“We were doing no such thing,” Charles answered sharply.

“Go in the house,” Robert repeated.

“Please,” Marjani urged.

“I’ve a message for you, Sir.” Charles said.

“You may give it to Mrs. Halifax.” Robert said. “I wish to talk with your brother and the Voodoo priestess.”

“Careful what you say,” Marie warned.

“Carlo!” Giovanni shouted.

“Go to Blazes!” Charles responded as he walked into the dress shop with Marjani.

“Sir,” Giovanni narrowed his eyes as he looked at Robert. “You should not have interfered.”

“Nor should you,” Robert replied firmly.

Robert’s eyes widened as Giovanni withdrew a knife from the pocket of his coat.

Marie laughed loudly as the knife glinted in the dim light.

“Perhaps it is time for me to wet my hands,” Giovanni chuckled. “I think your blood would warm me.”

Meanwhile, in Edward Cage’s Royal Street mansion, Arthur rolled over and pulled the blankets from Ulrika’s face. “So, then, Pet, do you regret sneakin’ me in now?”

“No.” Ulrika grinned with satisfaction.

“Did you miss me?” Arthur winked.

“Perhaps.” Ulrika teased.

“Nice,” Arthur replied playfully.

“I’m thirsty,” Ulrika whined like a child.

“I ain’t surprised.” Arthur sat up. “Let me get you something to quench your thirst.”

“There’s wine on the table.” Ulrika pointed.

“Of course there is.” Arthur said, getting out of the bed. He didn’t pause to cover himself. Ulrika watched as he crossed the room.

Arthur blocked the table as he poured a goblet of wine for Ulrika.

“Do hurry,” Ulrika moaned.

“Just a minute, Love.” Arthur cooed. “I spilled some.” Reaching for a cloth, Arthur retrieved the small packet of powder he’d hidden there when Ulrika was undressing. He poured the powder into her wine, letting it dissolve before turning around.

“Here we are,” Arthur smiled as he came back to bed. “This will do the trick.”

At that very moment, Cecil watched helplessly as Mr. Punch’s unconscious body thrashed around on his bed.

He tried shaking Julian’s body again. “Come on, then.” Cecil said urgently. “Wake up!”

Little did Cecil know, a terrible scene was unfolding inside that wiry body. Mr. Punch shouted as he ransacked the phantom room in their shared body.

“I ain’t gonna accept it!” Mr. Punch screamed. “I’m gonna raise that child as me own!”

“Please! Stop!” Julian urged. “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

“I do!” Mr. Punch argued.

“Stop!” An unknown male voice shouted—reverberating within the ethereal walls of that room that only they could see.

“Who’s that?” Mr. Punch paused.

“I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this,” Julian whispered. “If only you’d listened. Now, he’s awakened.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-248? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Accept Unexpected Challenges

King George VI with a friend
The Royal Collection
Just as George VI had to accept unexpected responsibilities that he didn’t really want, so must all of us adapt to circumstances and set aside out own desires for the greater good. Very often, life tosses us a surprise which can mean a total change of life. To deny these challenges would be doing a disservice to ourselves and the people that we love.

We can take on these obstacles without losing the parts of ourselves which make us unique. Face each challenge in your own special way and make the best of it. While you may falter along the path, you will always be triumphant simply by trying.

Object of the Day: A Souvenir of the Unexpected Coronation of King George VI, 1937

Born in 1895—the son of the future King George V and Mary of Teck—he was welcomed into the world on the anniversary of the death of his Great Grandfather, Prince Albert. His parents were nervous to tell Queen Victoria of the child’s birth given the fact that she was distraught by the anniversary of her beloved husband’s passing. And, so, to mollify his grandmother, George V called his son, “Albert.” The name was said to have pleased the Queen who wrote, “I am all impatience to see the new one, born on such a sad day but rather more dear to me, especially as he will be called by that dear name which is a byword for all that is great and good.”

Known affectionately as “Bertie” throughout his life, the young prince never imagined that he would be king. At the time of his birth, he was fourth in line for the throne after his grandfather (Edward VII), his father (George V) and his eldest brother (Edward VIII). Nervous, plagued by ill-health and a horrible stutter, “Bertie” preferred a quiet life, marrying Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923.

Bertie’s mother, Mary of Teck, and father both had issues with their party-boy eldest son. His parents hoped that, somehow, Bertie would one day ascend to the throne. George V was known to have said, "I pray to God my eldest son will never marry and have children, and that nothing will come between Bertie and Lilibet [Bertie and Elizabeth’s eldest daughter, now Queen Elizabeth II] and the throne."

It seemed that George V’s wish would come to pass—despite reluctance from his youngest son. Upon the death of George V, Edward ascended to the throne as Edward VIII. However, Edward was not to last a year and walked away from the role of sovereign before his coronation, preferring to marry his questionable lady-friend instead of ruling the empire.

The date of the coronation remained the same, only the king was different. May 19, 1937 saw the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later known as The Queen Mother). Aside from his personal issues, King George VI has much to deal with during his reign—the splintering of the empire as well as the Second World War.

Souvenirs from the 1937 coronation are quite interesting to me. In my collection of Royal memorabilia, I have several items with the same coronation date—some for Edward VIII, some for George VI. The souvenirs made for Edward VIII were quickly pulled from the shelves and largely destroyed, replaced with quickly-assembled pieces bearing the countenances of George VI and Elizabeth.

I especially like this mug. The images of the King and Queen are classic late-1930’s artwork. The stylized profiles set against the primarily-colored crest look almost ethereal and are the perfect symbol of the reluctant king and his supportive bride.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: The Listening Bertie

“Excuse me, Ruby, could you please close the door?  We’re reenacting a Dutch genre painting in here.  So, unless you have a lute or a pearl earring or a yellow jacket, this isn’t really for you.  Okay?”
(Click to enlarge)

Image: The Listening Servant, 1853, Hubertus van Hove, The Victoria & Albert Museum.

Gifts of Grandeur: Queen Elizabeth’s Star of the Order of the Garter

Star of the Order of the Garter
English, 1923
Diamonds, Enamel
The Royal Collection
Traditionally, when a member of the Royal family of Britain marries, a new title or honor is bestowed on either one or both of the betrothed. We saw this most recently when Prince William of Wales and Katherine Middleton were created the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge respectively on the day of their wedding.

When the future King George VI married Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later known as “The Queen Mother”) in 1923, he was given this star upon his investiture with the Order of the Garter. George VI presented his daughter, Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II), with this star upon her investiture with the Order of the Garter prior to her 1947 wedding.

HM Queen Elizabeth II
Cecil Beaton, 1968
The Royal Collection

A masterpiece of diamonds and enamel, the Queen often wears this garter star—as seen in this photograph by Cecil Beaton from 1968.

Mastery of Design: Queen Elizabeth II’s Ruby and Diamond Necklace, 1964

Ruby and Diamond Necklace
English, 1964
The Royal Collection
Before being given to Her Majesty, the Queen, in 1964, this exquisite necklace of flat-cut rubies and brilliant-cut diamond clusters was actually a simple necklace, separate pendant and pair of earrings from the famed Baring Collection of jewels. The earrings and pendant were adapted into the design of the necklace in 1964.

One of several pieces of rubies and diamonds owned by the Queen, this is, by far, one of the most extravagant. Still worn by Her Majesty, this necklace is one of the few pieces in regular rotation in her wardrobe.

Unfolding Pictures: A Pair of “Pen Work” Hand Screens, 1800-1825

Hand Screen
Wood, Pen Work, Lacquer
The Victoria & Albert Museum
As we know, hand screens (or face screens) served a dual purpose. Not only were they employed to protect a lady’s makeup from the heat of the fire, but also were displayed on a mantelpiece as decoration.

In the early Nineteenth Century, Chinese-inspired designs dominated the style of face screens which were made of wood, upholstered card or papier mache. This pair of wooden hand screens dates between 1800 and 1825 and is an excellent example of Pen Work.

Pen Work was often used to replicate the look of black Chinese lacquer with gilded adornment. Chinoiserie items were often quite expensive. Pen Work allowed for the look of these dear objects without the cost. All that was needed was a little skill.

The Victoria & Albert Museum
A scalloped, thin piece of light-colored wood was painted black, leaving the areas of the desired pattern unpainted. The pattern was filled-in with Indian ink and fine quill pen. Then, the entire screen was varnished. The unpainted parts of the wood would take on a golden hue which only became richer over time. After a few years, the finished product was almost indistinguishable from actual Chinese lacquer with gilt designs.

This technique was not just used in the making of hand screens, but was a staple of the decorative arts and furniture making. Such screens weren’t considered fashion accessories in the way that traditional folding fans were, but rather, were considered to be furnishings—part of the décor and usefulness of a room.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 248

You’ve got nothing to say that I want to hear.” Charles spat at Marie Laveau and his brother, Giovanni.

“You’ve been led astray, Carlo,” Giovanni shook his head. “Sure, the Englishwoman is beautiful and I’m sure she’s soft and fragrant, but she’s a devil in a pretty package.”

“And, you’re not?” Charles growled.

“No, I’m your family.” Giovanni smiled.

“You? You want to talk with me about devils? How many men have you killed?”

“Personally?” Giovanni laughed. “None.”

“You don’t need to be the hand holding the knife to be a murderer.” Charles answered sharply.

“They’ve ruined you, these English.” Giovanni shrugged. “Not to worry, this kind woman and I will show you the way.”

“Yes,” Marie grinned.

“Evil always attracts itself,” Charles shivered. “I’m not surprised that the mist has united the two of you.”

“I found this poor man—bloody and lost—in need.” Marie grinned. “I only offered him some kindness.”

“In exchange for what?” Charles asked.

“That’s unkind, pretty man.” Marie scowled. “The root of all that I do is love.”

“Love of yourself!” Charles barked.

“How am I so different from you?” Marie asked. “Are you delivering messages for the English because of your loyalty or because you wish to secure a place for Barbara Allen in your bed?”

“What I do is from respect and affection.” Charles said. “Not that I should explain myself to the likes of you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a most urgent errand to attend to.”

“I can’t let you do that.” Giovanni sighed, reaching for the note from Cecil which Charles grasped in his hand.

Meanwhile, Marjani peered out of the window, hidden behind the thick drapery which Mama Routhe had made from the remnants of the luxurious gowns that they made in their shop.

“What’s happening now?” Adrienne asked.

“Marie and that man have Charles cornered.” Marjani answered softly.

“Damn!” Robert grunted. “Surely he’s come with a message for us. Why should Marie Laveau want to interfere?”

“Because of me, Sir.” Marjani shook her head.

Robert moaned loudly. “I’ve grown weary of the machinations of these people! I can’t just stand here and wait! My dear Punch is alone. I feel he needs me! I must return to him!”

“Robert,” Adrienne whispered. “What will you do?”

“I’ll put an end to this once and for all!” Robert said, taking off his jacket.

At that very moment, in the secret, ethereal “room” inside of their shared body, Mr. Punch stretched out on the cloudy floor and wept loudly. “It ain’t true!”

“Naasir would not misguide us,” Julian soothed Punch from his chair.

“I would not, Sir.” Naasir added, also not moving. “I only speak the truth.”

“No!” Punch sat up. “You don’t speak nothin’! What do you know? You’re dead! You ain’t speakin’ at all. There ain’t no substance to you! You’re just a picture of a man. You’re just some dream that me master and I are sharin’. You don’t got no more truth to you than did the spirits what strutted across the stage of our memory. That’s all you are—a memory. Ain’t no breath in you. Ain’t no life. You’re just some trick of the light and some foolishness in our memories. You come in here, glowin’ like the sun and tellin’ your stories. How do we know that what you say isn’t fed by me master’s fears? There’s no truth to it!”

“Though I may be a trick of light and memory,” Naasir responded evenly, “there’s truth in what I say.”

“You’re a dream!” Mr. Punch said. “The dream of a mad man! Come on, Master, you can’t deny it. That’s what we are. Everyone knows it! We put a kind face on it, but at our core, we’re nothing but a lunatic. That’s what everyone says. We’re a broken man—splintered into two parts.”

“We’re two men!” Julian shouted uncharacteristically. “Naasir is just as real as you are. You can’t deny that you’re now a real person in your own right. Perhaps you don’t have a human form of your own, but you have a heart, mind and spirit. You of all people should not doubt Naasir’s veracity. What he says is true. The child is not ours to raise!”

“None of this is real!” Punch said, springing up and swatting his arms at the furniture in the room. He pushed over candle stands and tables. He pulled the hangings from the walls.

“What are you doing?” Julian screamed.

“I’m showin’ you that this ain’t real!” Punch shouted. “None of it is.”

“Stop!” Julian howled. “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

Just then, Cecil entered Julian’s bedroom in the house on Royal Street and found Toby whimpering next to Mr. Punch’s/Julian’s body which quivered and shook in awful spasms.

Toby trotted over to Cecil as the man entered the bedroom and tugged at his pant leg.

“What’s this?” Cecil asked, rushing over the Mr. Punch whose body became gripped in a terrible seizure.

Toby barked.

Cecil places his hands on Punch’s chest and shook the man, but neither Punch nor Julian would respond.

“Dear God!” Cecil grunted. “What is this?”

Did you miss Chapters 1-247? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Back to Basics

Our pets instinctually know how to take care of themselves. They listen to what their bodies are telling them. If it itches, scratch it. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re sleepy, take a nap. Dogs and cats don’t worry about things that aren’t immediate. Squirrels need barking at. Bellies need rubbing. Water wants drinking.

I’ve always contended that we can learn a lot from our pets. While we have a good many other things which need our attention, a dog’s simple philosophy carries considerable weight. If we’re satisfying out basic needs as mammals, we’re putting ourselves in a better position to deal with our other human responsibilities.

So, today, listen to your body. Scratch what itches. Be glad when your people come home and, always, remember the simple joys of life.

Object of the Day: A Drawing by Cecil Aldin, 1912

Another page from the illustrated book, Mac, by Cecil Aldin, this drawing shows Aldin’s terrier hero resting after a day of Scottish mischief.

Aldin was celebrated as one of the early Twentieth Century’s foremost artists of sporting themes. His light, loose style perfectly captured the spirit of his subjects. Here, he’s accurately rendered Mac while using few lines and relying on light and shadow to create a fully formed figure.

Having firsthand experience with the vision of a napping Westie, I have to say that this simple drawing is an effortless image of the subject.

Original copies of the book in its entirety can still be found. A recent reprinting of the book also is available—allowing new generations to enjoy Mac’s antics.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Precious Time: A Magnificent Clock by Vulliamy & Son, 1807

Egyptian Revival Clock
Vulliamy & Son
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Early Nineteenth Century discoveries of Egyptian artifacts caused an interest in the style of ancient Egypt and a spate of objects designed in England in the Egyptian taste. This style was especially dominant in objects with an inherent architectural quality such as clocks and tombstones.

This gorgeous clock in the Egyptian style in the work of English clockmakers Vulliamy & Son. The case is supported by figures of the god, Horus and is adorned with patinated bronze and ormolu.

Before being donated to the Victoria & Albert Museum, this clock was in the collection of Queen Mary prior to her marriage to King George V.

Painting of the Day: Portrait of a Lady called Jeanne de Marigny, 1650-1660

Portrait of a Lady Called Jeanne de Marigny
Either Charles Beaubrun or Henri Beaubrun or both
The Victoria & Albert Museum
This elegant painting of a richly dressed woman is curious in a variety of ways. To begin with, though the painting is said to be of a woman named Jeanne de Marigny, no one is quite sure who she is. No other portraits of the sitter survive, no are any records of her to be found.

Another odd thing about this painting is that it has been attributed to two artists and may be the work of one of them or both of them. Said to be the work of Charles Beaubrun and/or Henri Beaubrun, the canvas shows hallmarks of the hand of both artists. The Beaubrun were cousins—both of whom worked in the courts of Louis XIII and XIV and are virtually indistinguishable in both style and subject matter.

Nevertheless, it’s an exquisite painting and though we don’t really know who she is or who painted her, this canvas is an interesting glimpse into the style and fashion of the Seventeenth Century France.

Building of the Week: Florence Cathedral, Italy

An artist's conception of the finished cathedral, 1390
Andrea di Bonauito
One of the biggest triumphs of Renaissance architecture as well as one of the most important domed structures in the world, Florence Cathedral (also known as “Il Duomo” and, officially, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore) is the work of history’s most celebrated architects and artists over several centuries.

The jewel in the sparkling crown that is Florence, Italy, the basilica is known for its brilliant multi-colored marble façade, its towering campanile and, especially, its massive octagonal dome. At the center of Florence’s artistic and religious life, the basilica represents some of the most radical thinking in the history of architecture.

Prior to 1296, the site was the home of a different cathedral dedicated to Santa Reparata which had been founded in the early Fifth Century. By the Thirteenth Century, the cathedral had begun to crumble after eight hundred years of use. The need for a new cathedral had become urgent as the population of Florence continued to grow. To make matters worse, Sienna and Pisa had begun new cathedral complexes and Florence was not about to be outdone.

In 1296, Arnolfo di Cambio, the architect of Santa Croce and the Palazzo Vecchio, had been commissioned to design the new structure. He envisioned a wide basilica with a tall octagonal dome. Though he hadn’t quite worked out the mechanics of the enormous dome (such a feat of architecture without the aid of wooden supports hadn’t been attempted since the Pantheon), Arnolfo’s plan was approved and construction began two years later. Sadly, Arnolfo died eight years later.

After Arnolfo’s death in 1302, construction of the cathedral nearly came to a halt for thirty years. His design was complicated and no one was quite sure how to approach the project—especially that pesky dome. In 1330, relics of San Zenobius were discovered in Santa Reparata (which still hadn’t been pulled down and was sitting in the middle of the construction site). This discovery escalated the need for the work on the cathedral to continue so that the increased number of pilgrims visiting the site could be accommodated. Famous architect and artist Giotto took over the project and worked steadily on it until a little trouble hit Italy in the form of the Black Plague in 1348.

Giotto’s death in 1337 meant that his assistant, Andrea Pisano, would have to take over. However, Giotto did manage to complete the campanile and several other structural elements following the original designs of Arnolfo di Cambio.

Several other architects manned the project over the following decades. By 1375, Santa Reparata was finally pulled down. And, by 1418, all but the dome had been completed.

Ah, the dome. That was a problem. How would it stand without wooden supports? How would it be constructed? As was often the practice of the time, a structural design competition was held to see who could complete the dome. The search was narrowed down to two people—both famous names: Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti (who designed the ornamental doors to the Baptistry). Brunelleschi had the support of Cosimo de Medici, so naturally, he was awarded the commission. Work started on the dome in 1420 and took over sixteen years.

The Cathedral in 1880
The dome is constructed of a complicated series of bricks and mortar which is supported by metal and wooden bands within the masonry. A feat of engineering, the dome continues to dominate the skyline of Florence.

Though the cathedral was “open for business,” by the early Fifteenth Century, work continued on the decorative marble façade well into the 1880’s. Similarly, the gorgeous stained glass windows and numerous sculptures were also added over time. Despite the impressive architecture of the basilica, the interior is rather Spartan compared to others of the era—allowing for the building to speak for itself.

Today, Florence Cathedral remains one of the most impressive architectural accomplishments in history. It will forever be a symbol of the ingenuity of the Renaissance and of the arts of Italy. To learn more about Il Duomo, this Web site can offer you a lot of great information.

Unusual Artifacts: “The New Panthom” Bustle, 1884

The New Phantom
Steel Wires and Cotton Tapes
English, 1884
The Victoria & Albert Museum
In the 1860’s, as the bell-shaped skirt fell out of fashion, a lady began to drape the excess fabric of her crinolines around her hips so that they would bunch up behind her, making a different silhouette.

This fashion gave rise to the bustle. The word “bustle” was considered vulgar to Victorian ladies who referred to the new contraptions that they would wear under their gowns as “tournures” or “dress improvers.” At first, the tournure served to gather the crinoline and excess fabric of existing dresses. Soon, however, it became a separate piece of clothing, worn under a dress and fastened with a series of uncomfortable belts and straps. Bustles could be constructed of a variety of materials which served to pad the back of a dress—horse hair, down, straw and padding—taking the form of little cushions.

Victoria & Albert Museum
By the 1870’s the tournure was constructed by steel and took the form of a cage which could be adapted into the necessary shape. This mode, called “The New Phantom,” rose in prominence in the 1880’s. New technology allowed for the cage to collapse when a lady sat down and expand when she rose and was considered infinitely more comfortable than the cumbersome cushions of the past.

For the Queen’s 1887 Golden Jubilee, a variation of this tournure was made as a special novelty. When a woman rose, a mechanism would release, causing a music box to play “God Save the Queen.” The phenomenon was short-lived.

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 247

As Naasir spoke, the light in the phantom room grew all the brighter and warmer. Mr. Punch could feel his face bathed in the sunrise glow of bronze, amber and gold. He shivered as the light enveloped him, and though the radiance was warm, he couldn’t help but feel cold.

“It is written,” Naasir began, “in the tale of ‘The Great Man of the Rocks,’ that he should wish for a family.”

“I got a family,” Punch interrupted. “I got a big family. I got Robert, and Cecil and Adrienne and Fuller.” Punch said innocently. “And, I got Marjani and Meridian and Gamilla and me puppet, and sweet, furry Toby.”

“Yes,” Naasir nodded.

“I’m part of the ‘Great Man of the Rocks,’ yes?” Mr. Punch asked.

“You are.” Naasir smiled. “You and His Grace are, together, the Great Man who is two men in one.”

“So, I got me wish. I got a family. Even you, Chum, though you’re dead. And even Charles and Barbara in their own way.”

Naasir grinned. “You have all of those people, Sir, including me.”

“Let Naasir continue, dear Punch,” Julian said softly. Even though the light around them was quite brilliant, Julian, somehow, still sat in cool blue shadows.

“Thank you, Your Grace.” Naasir replied.

“I’m listenin’. “ Mr. Punch shrugged. “Didn’t know I wasn’t ‘sposed to add things. Go on.”

“’The Great Man of the Rocks’ wished for a child to carry his name,” Naasir continued.

“I got that—Colin.” Mr. Punch interrupted again.

“However,” Naasir said, ignoring Mr. Punch. “The child was not his.”

Mr. Punch looked over his shoulder at Julian who nodded.

“We know he ain’t really mine. He’s Barbara’s son. Barbara’s and that terrible Arthur. But, who born him don’t matter none. It’s who’s gonna raise him to be a man what matters.”

“And, that’s just it, Mr. Punch.” Naasir shook his head.

“I don’t understand.” Punch grunted.

“Perhaps if you let Naasir finish,” Julian whispered.

“But, I don’t wanna hear it.” Mr. Punch muttered.

“You must, dear Punch.” Julian said quickly.

“Do you know what he’s gonna say?” Punch asked his master.

“I do.” Julian sighed. “However, you need to hear it yourself.”

“I don’t wanna.” Mr. Punch put his hands over his ears.

“You must.” Julian said firmly.

Mr. Punch removed his hands from his ears and frowned.

“The child is named ‘Holt.’” Naasir spoke up.

“His name was such, but it ain’t no more.” Mr. Punch argued. “He’s called Colin like our pa.”

“The child is named, ‘Holt.’” Naasir repeated. “And he grows to be a wonderful man with a kind heart filled with love and respect.”

“That’s good to know.” Mr. Punch grumbled.

“Despite his parentage and despite the home in which he is raised.” Naasir continued.

“But, he’ll be raised in a good home. Me and Robert—we’ll take good care of him.” Mr. Punch replied emotionally.

“You and the Doctor will always be a part of the child’s soul. The love you feel for him will be what drives him into a life of kindness. He will be so much like you—both of you. The way in which he loves and the kindness that he shows those who culture would beat.”

“I don’t wish to hear this.” Mr. Punch began to cry.

“The child is called ‘Holt.’” Naasir said firmly. “And, like his uncles, gives his life for the greater good.”

“After living it long and full.” Mr. Punch said, wiping the tears from his eyes.

“After fulfilling what is written.” Naasir shook his head.

The light around them faded from bronze to lavender and Mr. Punch suddenly felt warm and began to perspire.

“No.” Mr. Punch shouted. “I ain’t gonna listen.”

“You can ignore it, Sir,” Naasir answered softly, “but, it won’t change it.”

“He’s mine. Mine and Robert’s.” Punch stuck his legs with his own fists. “We’re gonna raise him.”

“Like you, Sir, he belongs to fate.” Naasir smiled.

Mr. Punch began to pant.

“I don’t understand,” Punch wailed.

“Dear Punch, the child is not ours. We must return him to where he belongs.”

“Not you, too, Master.” Mr. Punch turned around and looked at Julian who was no longer shrouded in shadows, but rather, glowing as Naasir did—in a rosy brightness.

“We must accept it.” Julian said.

“But, why?” Punch moaned.

“Because it is what is written,” Naasir replied. “We cannot fight it.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-246? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Find Your Symbol

Within each of our homes is an object which represents your life. From a particular work of art to a piece of furniture, there’s some iconic object which is a symbol of your life, your work and your values.

Around here, there are several pieces which are iconic of the home of Joseph and Bertie. The mother-of-pearl inlaid center table is a staple of the front hall and has become a representative of the house. The painting by Alexandre Marie Guillemin (seen on the masthead of the site) is symbolic of my work with Stalking the Belle Époque, the portrait of the mysterious woman in blue by Kollard represents my writing. The Royal Souvenirs are evidence of my interests and passions.

Even Bertie has iconic possessions. The stuffed cow that’s as long as he is and the squeaky parrot known as “The Lory” both represent his personality and interests.

Today, find those iconic items which you feel most represent who you are and what you cherish. Give them a place of prominence and importance in your home so that each time you see them, you will remember what matters the most to you.

Object of the Day: A Souvenir of the Coronation of King George V and Queen Mary, 1911

Things have gotten quite muggy here at Bertie’s house. No, not just because of the humid weather, but because of the introduction of nearly a dozen new pieces of Royal Memorabilia to my increasingly large collection of such items. Thanks to my parents, my study is now filled with even more little Royal visages—particularly of George V and my personal favorite, Queen Mary.

I’ve written at length about my fondness for Queen Mary—the seemingly steely one-time Queen Mother and fierce collector of important antiquities. George V was equally fierce in a different way. He inherited the throne at a time of political and social turmoil and led his nation through the chaos of the First World War. Known to the current Queen as “Grandfather England,” George V guided both Britain and his family through a very difficult period and is responsible, in many ways, for the current face of the Royal Family and the Empire.

I do so enjoy having these Royal souvenirs around me and can’t help but smile when I look at them. They connect me to a history which means so much to me. While Britain is not my country of origin, I feel a strong kinship with its history and the way in which the story of the Empire fits into the great puzzle of world culture.

This mug is particularly special to me. At one point I had my hands on it and when we were checking out, it was accidentally separated from our purchases. So, I’m especially glad to have it. While it does not have a maker’s mark, it is dated, 1911, and it’s an unusual example of a Coronation mug of the period. It is not only brightly-colored, but decorated with English roses. With its fine images and unusual color scheme, it has a visual strength which nicely represents the power of a very important reign.